Mess about by the river
Put The Rowbarge on your summer hit list. River location, good food and a huuuuge gin list *hic*.
I love a pub slightly off the beaten track – the ones you’re unlikely to drive past unless you detour. That’s The Rowbarge in Woolhampton for you, an attractive riverbank inn with a huuuuuge garden that runs down to the River Kennet. Pull off the busy A4 that links Reading and Newbury, cross the train tracks at the level crossing, head over the swing bridge and this handsome inn is right there in all its glory. Yes my intrepid pubsters, you can experience planes, *ahem* I mean canalboats, trains, and automobiles within a short stagger of this popular pitstop.
Warm, inviting, villagey. The Rowbarge is a trad a country pub with a neutral scheme of sage green and cream walls, vintage collectables, lots of indoor plants and bit of boaty memorabilia – oars on the wall, old waterway pictures. The dining area feels big and spacious, but cleverly it has a couple of dividing walls that allow you to have a nose at what everyone’s eating but you’re not close enough to eavesdrops (dammit).
Personally I prefer the main bar area in terms of vibe, as it feels more pubby – I’d love to have seen more bold art on the walls and vibrant seating in the dining room (totally just personal preference) but my son thought it was very swish and loved our booth table. It was certainly buzzy enough – 90 diners in for lunch on a MONDAY! And it draws in a mixed crowd. Why? Good pub fayre, friendly feels and location location location, baby.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The food and drinks offering is vast. A weighty wine list covering all budgets, a whopping gin list that stretches to almost 100 different bottles (I could be here a while), plus local craft ales and ciders. On the food front, there are light bites and sarnies for peckish peeps popping in for a drink, the food is crowd-pleasing pub fayre with a twist and the kids get to choose from a list of classics: fish and chips, a burger, ham egg and chips and pasta. My little Mudlet chose the fish and chips. Fast becoming the Magnolia of his eating out choices, but it down make him a connoisseur.
First and foremost, I started with a gin. Well it was a Monday, the sun was shining and, well, why the hell not? Manager Stuart recommended Malfy blood orange gin. Stuart loves his gin once the growing bar full of the stuff. I had never tried a blood orange gin – and I can report I will be drinking it again. It was delicious. Pick me up and send me to the Amalfi Coast, this is my drink for the rest of the day. Or not…
Manager Stuart delivered these delicious plump meaty balls to our table (no sniggering at the back), warm chorizo sausages with sweet roquito peppers (£5.95) to keep us going. They are amazing. Spicy, bite sized and the teardrop peppers are sweet.
Trying to good and keep lunch light, I opted for the Watermelon and crab salad to start. Quinelles of crab were perched on top of a piece of watermelon. Unexpected, for sure, and in my head shouldn’t work, but it was delicious. Light, tasty and not a single thing left on my plate. The staff very kindly asked if we would like my son’s meal to come out with my starter. Anything to stop a hangry meltdown in public.
Next up? Fillet of sea bass with pan fried salsify, croquette and dried cherry tomato (£14.95) Seriously how pretty is this plate of food. And trust me it tasted as good as it looks. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten salsify (it’s an ugly root vegetable, in case you’ve never heard of it) but pan fried in butter, I can confirm I liked. The bass was cooked to perfection, the croquet were melt in the mouth. It wasn’t obvious that the tomatoes were dried, but there were empty plates all round.
Shall we tootle over to the dessert menu? I have a confession to make. Now I know we had pudding. Sticky toffee pud with a warm toffee sauce and ice cream. But I don’t have a picture of it. Why? Because my son hoovered the lot like it was the last meal he was ever going to eat. Rudeness. He left me a scrap of ice-cream which wasn;t quite the pud porn shot I was after. Safe to say, it got a big tick. The hot waffle with caramel sauce and honeycomb ice cream also had my name on it, as did the coconut pannacotta, gently hobbling out of the kitchen like Kim K’s bottom.
It’s worth noting, Sunday roast is always popular and this is a must visit when the sun shines. This riverside spot is absolutely cracking. Seep your eyes peeled for their events t0: regular gin and beer festivals, BBQs, outdoor theatre, a summer festival and a Royal Wedding Garden Party this weekend. No excuse ever needed to crack open the Pimms and bubbles.
OUT AND ABOUT
As you would imagine there are some lovely walks along the towpath that are pretty easy going for little people, pushchairs and the *wheeeeeze* slightly less fit. We really enjoyed the garden and looking at the canal boats moored up, coming through Woolhampton lock. If you’re after a more rigorous workout, there is a 6 mile circular walk that takes you down to Aldermaston Wharf and back. Shopping more your speed? Pop into The Corner Shop. A treasure trove of utterly gorgeous things you never you needed but definitely want..
The Muddy Verdict:
Good for: Relaxed families, casual drop in diners, Sunday lunchers and sun seeking drinkers. Everyone is welcome. Older kids can escape outside, younger kids have things to keep them busy.
Bad for: Those looking for super-trendy interiors or a posh gastro experience. The Rowbarge is relaxed and more traditional country pub than ooh-la-la. The river is a bonus for many but might put off parents’ of toddlers. Although, I had my 4 year old with me and it didn’t bother me in the slightest.
££: Very reasonable for this next of the woods: starters range from £5.45-£7.25; mains from £11.75. A burger is £13.25 and the steak is £18.95. Our pud was £6.95. The kids fish and chips are £8.25, but portion sizes are big. So you an older child could happily eat it or share with 2 littllies.
The Rowbarge, Station Rd, Woolhampton, Reading RG7 5SH. Tel: 0118 971 2213